The ad spoke for itself. On Super Bowl Sunday, the Trump campaign debuted its now infamous Criminal Justice Reform ad. The ad focused on Alice Johnson, who was facing life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense, before President Trump commuted her sentence. The bipartisan law, passed in 2017, primarily benefited non-violent drug offenders of color.
Many analysts and pundits shrugged off the ad as having little impact but barely two days, during the State of the Union, Trump emphasized the historically low unemployment rate of blacks and women. He also called out the exploits of a 100 year old Tuskegee Airman, who served his country with distinction and defined what made America great. Right before, the Trump campaign had spent a million dollars to run newspaper ads in South Florida to talk about the benefits of the current economy.
Soon after the SOTU, the Trump campaign unveiled several initiatives aimed at winning over minorities. Combined with the Trump campaign’s plans to lure millions of new voters to the polls to support the incumbent, the question has to be asked why the Trump campaign is expending so much cash on these efforts?
Well, to be honest, the demographics and math of the country are against the President if the President’s support hardly changes from 2016. Major demographers and Pew Research are predicting as much as 1/3rd of the electorate could be non-white while Gen Z voters will make up close to 10 percent of the electorate (contradicted by other data however). Combined with Millennials, these voters could make the electorate the youngest in history, which likely benefits Democrats.
Democrats have a decided edge when it comes to young voters. Clinton defeated Trump by close to twenty points among them while Democrats cleaned up with 67 percent in 2018. Of course, exit polls are hardly perfect, and they have been shown to be wrong in the past.
But, even if younger voters don’t lean as blue as their more ecstatic exit poll telling brothers and sister, demographics do seem to favor Democrats. In Michigan and Wisconsin, which were decided in 2016 by roughly 11,000 and 22,700 votes respectively, close to a million young people have since turned 18. Beyond the Midwestern trio of states, like Arizona, for example which Trump by 91,000 votes, over 160,000 Latinos have turned 18 in that state since then and the GOP’s hold on the state’s suburbs are broken. Worse, it is assured Trump has lost some college educated whites he won in 2016.
This makes it imperative the President find a way to expand his coalition beyond rural, whiter and older voters. In 2016, due to the unorganized nature of the President’s campaign, his team never really had a chance to put a sustained plan in place to accomplish this. The campaign’s plan basically was, as Trump said, to ask “What have Democrats done for you (speaking to a black audience)?”
This time though, the Trump campaign has a massive field and digital operation in place. To lure occasional and non-Republican voters to the party, the campaign has held dozens of mega rallies across the country. Not only do these events gin up the President’s faithful they also are a lure for non-voters who attend and provide the party with critical contact information. These attendees tend to be older, white, and disgusted with the political process.
Consider, there are 100 million Americans who could have voted in 2018 who did not. The comprehensive analysis, provided from the Knight Foundation, surveyed 12,000 non-voters across the nation and found they were evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and were slightly more conservative on immigration then the nation as a whole. More importantly, for the Trump campaign, the Foundation surveyed an additional 800 voters in ten swing states – Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan, Georgia, Florida and Arizona – for 8,000 voters total, and found only in Pennsylvania and Virginia did Democrats benefit from all non-voters participating in the electoral process.
This showcases exactly why the Trump campaign is banking on expanding the electorate. Demographically and politically (more white, more conservative and older), millions of new Americans voting could benefit the White House. A Pew review in the aftermath of the 2016 election found more blacks voted (as a percentage of the population) than whites, suggesting there is a potential for a large number of conservative white voters to be galvanized. Further, and more alarming for Democrats, the study found Gen Z voters were the least enthused about voting in general. That matters when you consider exit polls showed Trump ran particularly strong among younger voters in PA, WI and MI.
Arguably, the Trump campaign expects to make more gains among non-voters than Democratic favoring groups. But, Republicans, know elections are won on very small swings in the electorate. Consider, in MI, PA and WI, black turnout in Milwaukee, Philly and Detroit, was down from 2008 and 2012 levels for Clinton. There is no guarantee this will repeat in November which is why the Trump campaign is investing heavily in reaching these communities.
Even if the GOP’s efforts to reach out to traditionally Democratic constituencies – blacks in particular – leads to few additional votes, it might have the unexpected benefit of making suburban voters feel more comfortable voting for Trump.
The Trump campaign not only expects these efforts to negate the Democratic advantage among younger/new voters but also put a number of swing states the President lost last time in play.
Remember the Knight Foundation? Well, if the Trump campaign turns out non-voters it puts particular states like Nevada and Minnesota in play (states the President lost by two points). Again, younger voters in the Rust-Belt are more conservative and MInnesota is demographically beneficial to the GOP while party efforts to reach out to Hispanics could play well in diversifying Nevada.
While the Trump campaign’s strategy might seem risky in reality it has a solid bed of support to rely on (including recent electoral results). In 2018, one of the worst electoral environments for the GOP in recent memory, Republicans beat well funded Democrats in TX and GA by turning out new Republican voters. Fully 15 percent of Republican voters in the hotly contested TX Senate contest between then Congressman Beto O’Rourke and Senator Ted Cruz were first-time voters. Cruz won by two and a half points in a race where 3 million voters participated. In the even narrower Georgia gubernatorial contest between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams, almost 20 percent of Republican voters were new. Kemp won by just over a point in a race where three million voters cast ballots. Without these new voters the GOP would have lost both races.
Better yet, even if the it seems like the Trump effort is not yielding new voters – at least in public surveys – it could make Democrats spend millions playing defense on getting their current voters to the polls. Then, of course, there is the likelihood voters will vote straight-ticket benefiting down-ballot candidates.
With Trump relying so heavily on new voters and the Democratic front-runner, Bernie Sanders, talking about how he will galvanize a new generation of voters to transform the country, new and unusual voters may never have more electoral power than now. Certainly the Trump campaign hopes they will.